Meet a Minted Artist: Erica Krystek

Triathlon magazine creative director. Former competitive tennis player. Journalism major. Mom and wife. These are a handful of the words we can use to describe Erica Krystek, who like many of her fellow community members, enters Minted challenges by night. With more than 200 Minted awards to her name, Erica’s work spans from exuberant holiday cards to humorous baby and kids designs, and a little bit of customizable art for good measure. If you look a little closer at Erica’s work on her Minted Artist Store, you’ll likely find yourself smirking at her usage of clever puns: “Let’s Taco ‘Bout How Awesome You Are” and “You’re Tool Cool” among them. It goes without saying that she’s not only a talented designer, but she’s also got a way with words.

Here the San Diego artist talks about her “plannerly” creative process, how she’s evolved as a Minted artist, and how quality mommy time and a good work-life balance makes her heart happy.

Sleepy Fox” baby shower invitation by Erica Krystek

Minted: Did you study art or design formally in school?
Erica Krystek: I grew up in San Diego and, other than college, have lived here my whole life. I did not formally study graphic design, and instead received a B.S. in journalism at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo in 2002. My intention was to be an editor or writer; however, my senior year while working as an editor at Cal Poly’s daily newspaper, I realized I enjoyed the design aspect of journalism more than the editorial side. At the time, the paper was a very low-budget operation, and as an editor, you were also tasked with designing your editorial section. So I quickly taught myself Quark and found that I kind of had a knack for it. After I graduated, I was fortunate to get a wonderful job working for a firefighting magazine, where I honed my design skills, eventually working my way up the ladder to Art Director.

Erica’s dog Sherman likes to stick his nose into Erica’s work.

What’s it like to work as the Creative Director of LAVA magazine?
I grew up heavily involved in many sports and received an athletic scholarship to college, so working for any sports-oriented publication piqued my interest. When I had the opportunity to work as the Creative Director for LAVA, it seemed like a perfect fit. LAVA is a newsstand, coffee-table-style triathlon magazine, published nine times a year. Our content caters to more serious and seasoned triathletes, versus beginners, and takes its name from the lava landscape of Kona, Hawaii, where the Ironman World Championship (the premier event for most triathletes) has been held each year since the early ’80s. We have a very small operation of eight people, so I do the majority of the design work for print and web as well as create our marketing materials and direct our cover shoots.

Erica Krystek is the Creative Director of LAVA Magazine.

Did you continue to play tennis after college?
I played tennis for so long—since the age of six and competitively from age 10 through college—that once I graduated, I was ready for a break. I didn’t pick up a racquet for three years after that, which felt strange since it had always been such a defining and enjoyable part of my life, but I needed some distance. Now I just play recreationally with friends on occasion. I’d consider playing competitively again, but only once my daughter is older. It would be too tricky to do now.

Erica Krystek played tennis on an atheltic scholarship at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. She is pictured here on the far left in 1998, at age 18.

Do you participate in triathlons?
My husband and I have done a couple sprint triathlons, but I am nowhere near the caliber of the Ironman-level triathletes I work with—mainly the editors. I have run a few marathons, though, and enjoy that so much more because there is no bike leg; I really dislike biking for long distances. But since I had my daughter, I am very out of competitive sport shape.

What’s a typical day like for you?
I am fortunate to have a very flexible work schedule and an amazing boss. Ever since my son was born in 2011, my boss has allowed me to work half my time in the office and half from home. On days when I drive into the office, I typically get my son ready for kindergarten and drop him off at school before I head in. My mom—I have a wonderful mom!—watches my daughter on these days. My workday consists mostly of cultivating our next issue, so depending on the week and particular phase of the production schedule, I could be organizing a cover shoot or cranking out editorial layouts. Once I am home and the kids’ dinner, homework, and bedtime routines are done, I try to work on Minted challenges if I’m not too pooped, and also on the weekends. The days when I am home with the kids are a bit trickier, and most of the time I am rushing to fit all my work in for the day while my daughter naps, but I wouldn’t trade it. Having quality mommy time and a good work-life balance makes my heart the happiest.

Erica has been married to her husband, Matt, a video game designer, for almost 12 years. Upon publishing this story in February 2017, their son, Lucas, is 6, their daughter, Gwen, is 20 months.

How do you describe your creative process? For example, do you think of yourself as a “to-do lister,” or do you wait until inspiration hits?
I am very much a planner and do not design super well under pressure. With Minted, ideally, I like to have some ideas jotted down or partially designed even before a challenge begins. When I have some breathing room, I feel I do my best work, but obviously that doesn’t always happen.

Botanic Joy” holiday card by Erica Krystek

How do you describe your stationery design style, and do you feel that you specialize in a particular aspect of design?
That’s a tough question because I think it’s somewhat varied. I lean more simple and modern for some categories, but my kids’ designs tends to be more cutesy, fun, and illustration-heavy. I don’t know that those styles fit neatly into one genre. You’d probably have to ask someone else—I’d be curious, too. I do enjoy the kids categories the most, though, simply because my friends and I are in that stage of life as parents of young children. I find inspiration comes more naturally in these categories.

How has your design style evolved, and where do you see it going?
I have learned to be much more comfortable with simplicity, and that less is often more. I think when we first start out, sometimes we feel the need to show all that we can do, which can sometimes lead to overthinking and overdesigning in an attempt to prove ourselves. I think my style has evolved into something that is more restrained, refined, and hopefully more tasteful than when I first began.

Is your family involved with your creative work?
My son is super into my Minted work and loves to help me out with concepts and color choices. He actually has a pretty good eye and most importantly appreciates a good valentine pun just like mom. For the Valentine’s Day challenge this year, he came up with “Pugs & Kisses,” which was my highest-scoring design in that contest. He was thrilled.

Pugs & Kisses” classroom valentine by Erica Krystek


You joined the Minted community in 2013. How did you discover Minted?
I was on and happened to see an ad for the People + Minted Most Beautiful Quotes Challenge. I entered a few designs and didn’t win by a long shot, but I loved the concept of the company and was hooked.  

Which Minted design challenge has been most challenging for you and why?
Wedding has been my most challenging category because of my aforementioned floral handicap and the fact that I can’t get too cutesy or thematic in this genre. This is one category that I hope to improve upon next year.

What do you enjoy about being part of the Minted community?
The friendly competition that forces me to improve and become a stronger designer and certainly the strong relationships I have built with many community members over the years. Even though we have never met in person, in some cases it feels as though I have known these people my entire life. It’s peculiar and amazing all at the same time.

Retro Rectangles” holiday card by Erica Krystek

What have you learned from being part of the Minted community?
Never get too comfortable or expect things. The minute you become complacent is when you stop growing and improving as an artist. You will experience the best highs and the most disappointing lows. You have to check your ego at the door and get really honest about yourself and your work.

Alphabet in Motion” custom children’s art by Erica Krystek

What’s your most memorable Minted experience?
My very first win sticks out, because I was ready to throw in the towel. I hadn’t had any success in the first several challenges I entered, and I told myself that I would give it one more shot. If it didn’t happen, maybe Minted wasn’t for me and I would move on. Then I kind of had an epiphany. Even though I wanted to believe my previous entries were decent and worthy of a pick, when I looked back and compared them with the winning designs, it was glaringly obvious. I wasn’t giving it my all. I wasn’t pushing myself. So I entered one more contest—intent on producing the best thing I possibly could. That entry became my “Alphabet in Motion” children’s art print with 26 tiny illustrations of cars, trucks, planes, and all things that go. It took me hours and hours to complete—and certainly looking back on it now I would make so many revisions—but with my skills at the time, it was the very best I could do. Miraculously, it was selected as an Editor’s Pick, and though I was very close to quitting, the thrill of that first win immediately sucked me back into the magical Minted vortex.

Rejoice” holiday card by Erica Krystek

Any don’ts for up-and-comers on Minted?
It’s human nature and very hard not to do so, but don’t compare yourself to other designers and get caught up in what they can do and you can’t. Focus on your strengths and refine your style. I will certainly work hard to improve my shortcomings, but for example, my floral illustrations will never be on par with the likes of Jen Wick, Phrosné Ras, Rachel Nanfelt of Alethea and Ruth, Chris Griffith, and Lynn Knipe of Griffinbell Paper Co., among many other talented Minted illustrators. That’s the honest truth, and I’m OK with that.

Erica Krystek’s Minted Artist Store
Erica Krystek on Instagram
Erica Krystek on Facebook

Published February 21, 2017

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